Scientists discover ‘ironclad’ beetle can survive being run over by a car


Even a bodybuilder couldn’t take on this beetle.

And one tried. Jesus Rivera, an engineer at the University of California at Riverside, once challenged a skeptical weightlifter to take on a brawny bug now dubbed the “diabolical ironclad beetle.”

“He picked it up and started squeezing it as hard as he could,” Rivera told the New York Times, speaking to the researcher about his new study in the journal Nature.

Failing, the man asked, “OK, tell me more,” Rivera said. He and his colleagues didn’t film this comical interaction, but they did get footage of a field test in which they ran over the beetle — twice — with a 3,500-pound Toyota Camry, according to the Times.

“Yeah, it’s still alive,” Rivera can be heard saying in the video as he inspects the beetle, a species called Phloeodes diabolicus. “It’s playing dead. But it’s still alive.”

Predominantly found on the west coast of North America, the flightless, rugged beetles are prey mostly to birds, lizards and rodents, and tend to hide under — or, essentially, become — rocks to avoid being eaten. Should their cleverly craggy disguise fail, their almost-impenetrable exoskeleton will ward off all but the most persistent predators.

Rivera and his engineering peers have something to learn from the diabolical ironclad beetle, whose unique structure could help with innovation in manufacturing industries, including defense and aeronautics.

The bug’s exterior appears to solve an age-old engineering conundrum: how to join “different materials without limiting their ability to support loads,” researcher David Restrepo, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Texas at San Antonio, told the Independent.

“The diabolical ironclad beetle has strategies to circumvent these limitations,” Restrepo said.

Compare the beetle to an egg if it had an interlocking mesh shell, suggested Rivera, wherein the yolk remains safely encased in the clear albumen.

“You can compress the shell without the yolk, or the organs, getting squished,” he said.

The strength of its protein-rich casing, constructed in parts that link together, is the equivalent of a 150-pound human surviving the weight of 25 blue whales, the Times reported.

CT scan of diabolical ironclad beetle
A CT scan reveals a pliable seal connecting two parts of the exoskeleton.AP

An extreme close-up of the beetle reveals a jigsaw puzzle-like seam where two exoskeletal plates meet on its back, which can bear a weight 39,000 times its own body’s without being crushed.

On BBC’s “Today,” UC Riverdale professor David Kisailus, who co-authored the study, compared the beetle’s modus operandi to a “stone.”

“It’s not that the beetle is fighting back, it’s just that they’re so tough and so robust it would just stand there and take it,” he said.

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